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Video Game / Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?

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Carmen's gang has pulled another caper! And it's up to you to crack the case...
— The original game's intro

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? is a 1985 educational computer game released by Brøderbund Software and the first entry in the Carmen Sandiego franchise.

In the game, you must travel around the world to pursue and capture Carmen's henchmen and, ultimately, Carmen herself. Each location has witnesses and clues that provide information about the culprit's appearance and location. Your task is to piece together the clues and arrest the correct suspect before the in-game deadline.

The game was remade twice. The first remake was the 1992 deluxe edition, which featured digitized photographs and spoken dialogue. It was followed by the 1996 version, which further updated the graphics and added in Lynne Thigpen as the Chief from the game show of the same name. The 1996 version also reworked the gameplay somewhat, particularly the warrant aspect, and changed the in-game time limit to a fuel limit.

These games provide examples of:

  • Acme Products: You are a sleuth at the ACME Detective Agency in the 1992 and 1996 versions.
  • Copy Protection: Horrible, horrible copy protection. Arguably some of the most frustrating of all time. You can play all you want, but to get promoted and even have a chance to capture Carmen, you have to enter certain words from certain pages of the included travel guides every few cases. Sound easy enough? Then remember that these games were incredibly common in schools... where the manuals would often get lost. And even the teachers couldn't exactly summon new copies of a travel guide (now often several years, if not a decade out of date) at will. This is, of course, averted in the 1996 version, since it's a product of the CD-ROM era.
  • Da Chief: Your boss in the 1992 and 1996 versions. In the 1992 version, the Chief is a white-haired man with a British accent, and in the 1996 version, the Chief is... well, Lynne Thigpen. In the original 1985 version, you simply receive anonymous texts from Interpol, and there is no mention of any "chief" character.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Being the first game in the Carmen franchise, the 1985 version has a lot of this. You work for Interpol instead of the fictional ACME Detective Agency, the crooks don't have Punny Names, the thefts aren't humorously impossible, and there are more violent animations. In general, the 1985 game plays its Police Procedural premise somewhat straight, whereas its successors treat it in a more wacky and comical fashion.
    • Carmen's appearance in the DOS version isn't quite the same as what most people would recognize as her trademark look. Her profile picture in the game shows her wearing her iconic hat and trench coat, but instead of red they are both brown.
  • Failed Future Forecast:
    • Of course, the 1985 version was made before the Hole in Flag revolutions, so it features the Soviet Union still being a country, etc. The 1992 deluxe edition has a reunited Germany alongside an existent Soviet Union, the game having fallen victim to the same period of short map shelf life as the game show's first season. The 1994 revamped version of the '92 game was the first to feature Russia instead of the Soviet Union.
    • While the 1996 version came out late enough to have cleared the end of the Cold War, it was nonetheless caught off guard by the fall of Zaire. In the 1998 revamped version of that game, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is still called "Zaire" for the most part, but its entry in the in-game database has been rewritten so that it awkwardly explains that "Zaire" is now technically the country's former name.
    • All three versions give population statistics that are, of course, outdated now.
    • All three versions predate the introduction of the euro, so they're all dated when they give as a clue the name of a European currency that has since been replaced by the euro.
    • In the 1996 version, your location for Afghanistan is one of the Bamiyan Buddha statues, both of which were dynamited by the Taliban in 2001.note 
  • Interpol Special Agent: You are an Interpol agent in the original 1985 version.
  • It's a Small World, After All: The clues you are given are about the entire country the crook went to rather than any specific place. Fortunately, knowing just the country is always enough to get you to another destination with more clues.
    • In the older games, clues intended to direct you to Moscow will sometimes mention places that were part of the U.S.S.R. at the time, but which are now independent of Russia.
    • Hand Waved at one point in the 1996 version where you have to find the torch from the Statue of Liberty, even though you investigate San Francisco. The Chief mentions that it 'appeared seconds after the theft' in San Francisco. Okay then...
  • Lighter and Softer: The 1992 and 1996 versions are more light-hearted and humorous than the original 1985 game, which is no surprise considering that's the direction that the franchise as a whole went in between the mid-80s and mid-90s. The tone of the PBS game show was probably an influence in that process.
  • Luck-Based Mission: In the pre-1996 versions, not every witness interviewed will yield characteristic traits of the suspect (hair color, vehicle, favorite food, etc.). It's possible to not have enough information to narrow down a suspect and issue a warrant at the time of the arrest even if you interviewed everyone during a case. This is especially problematic in early cases when there are fewer locations to travel and fewer witnesses to interview.
  • Mooks: Many street-level thugs can be detected to show you are on the right trail! In the '96 version, they're replaced with the two bumbling janitors cleaning up after the thief and Carmen's pet cat Carmine.
  • Multiple Endings:
    • If you run out of time or, in the 1996 version, fuel, the case is summarily ended with the crook getting away.
    • Issue an incorrect warrant, fail to even send one, or in the 1996 version, trying to arrest the wrong person, gives you the bad ending where the jury rules the crook innocent.
    • Not running out of time (or fuel) and correctly filing a warrant will give you the good ending. The crook is found guilty and sent to jail. In the 1996 version, an ACME Good Guide captures the crook, usually in a comedic fashion, followed by the newspaper reporting on the capture of the crook with the sounds of applause.
  • Nintendo Hard: After you get to "Private Eye" level, the game gets much harder. The interviewees are far less likely to give suspect identification clues, the suspects hop around much quicker, and the overall location clues get more and more vague. Plus, the crime computer needs even more data to identify your suspect.
    • At the highest levels, you must hop to the next location after interviewing one person, and pray that you stumble upon enough ID clues to get the warrant. There is no margin for error and significant luck is required.
  • Punny Names:
    • The names of some of the characters in the very first game are only "punny" in the sense that they refer to Brøderbund staffers. For example, Fast Eddie B (not to be confused with our Fast Eddie) is named after then-director of product development Edward Bernstein and Katherine Drib's name is an anagram of Brøderbund employee Katherine Bird.invoked
    • In the 1992 version, the original crooks are carried over, but the new crooks have names like Robin Banks and Yul B. Sorry. Notably, one of these new criminals is Sarah Nade, who would later be added to the game show.
    • In the 1996 version, the crooks not only have punny names, but their last words after being captured often theme with said name. For example, Dinah Myte says, "Oh no, you found me! I wonder where I blew it." Additionally, the '96 version features the ACME Good Guides, who also have punny names.
      • One of the Good Guides is named Renee Santz, her name being a pun on "Renaissance." Since the word "renaissance" means "rebirth" and the name "Renee" itself does, too, her name is kind of a circular pun.
  • Roger Rabbit Effect:
    • In the 1992 version, the characters are cartoons running around in still photographs.
    • In the 1996 version, Lynne Thigpen's Chief exists in live action, but everyone else is an animated character. This does kind of tie in with the game show, in which the crooks were all cartoons despite the rest of the show being live action.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: If the people you question haven't seen the suspect, that means you picked the wrong country. You need to fly back to the last place and pick up the trail again, which will blow at least a full day. You may be able to recover at "Rookie" level, but above that, the case is blown (unless you get extremely lucky).
  • Tropical Island Adventure: Two of the locations in the game are Singapore and Sri Lanka.note 
  • Unwinnable by Design: If you spend too much time going to the wrong places, before you figure out some of the more obscure hints (Especially in the later cases where there is almost no room for errors), you'll run out of time or battery power.
    • Can easily veer into the Cruel version of this trope. While there may be ample clues to show where the crook is going, you still have to figure out who the crook is via investigating clues and getting a warrant. You might find yourself questioning multiple witnesses, eating up valuable time, and lose the case because you took too long. See Luck-Based Mission above.
  • Updated Re-release: It's not as simple as there being the 1985, 1992, and 1996 versions.
    • The 1985 game has an "enhanced" version, released in 1990, with added color and whatnot. The screenshot on this page is taken from that version.
    • The 1992 deluxe edition has an updated 1994 version, which most notably added in the blonde-haired travel agent Shirley Eugest. Confusingly, this is often referred to as the "classic edition," presumably a Retronym intended to distinguish it from the 1996 version. So yes, the deluxe edition is older than the classic edition, and the enhanced version is older still. Got all that?
    • The 3.5 version, released in 1998, is the '96 version with some added features, such as the "talking translator."
  • Victory Dance: After you capture Carmen, a marching band parade plays Stars and Stripes Forever.
  • Video Game Remake:
    • As noted in the description, the game was remade twice, in 1992 and 1996.
    • Carmen Sandiego: Treasures of Knowledge has sometimes been counted as a (loose) fourth version, since its full onscreen title is Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? Treasures of Knowledge. Plus, its in-game database is cribbed from the 1996 version.
    • Carmen Sandiego: Junior Detective Edition is essentially a version of World, just aimed at a younger audience.
  • World Tour: Obviously. You visit various famous locales around the globe.

Tropes exclusive to the 1992 version:

  • 555: The phone numbers given are all prefixed with 555.
  • Kitchen Sink Included: When the culprit is tackled, several random items go flying through the air, occasionally including, yes, a kitchen sink.
  • Mad Libs Dialogue: This version features Warren the Warrant Robot. He helps you with issuing warrants and always talks in Mad Libs Dialogue.

Tropes exclusive to the 1996 version:

  • Art Initiates Life: Renee Santz captures thieves by painting ropes on them, which become real ropes because cartoon logic.
  • Bumbling Henchmen Duo: The two klutzy janitors working for Carmen. According to the user's manual, they're named Rick and Nick ICK.
  • Canon Immigrant: As noted above, this version features Lynne Thigpen's Chief from the game show.
  • Graceful Loser: When you've finally caught Carmen, she makes one last call to you congragulating you for it and remarking that she's been impressed by you as a detective, though also using the opportunity to let you knows she plans on breaking out and already has an idea for her next great heist.
  • Green Aesop: Often delivered by Rock Solid.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Completely unintentional, but a handful of times when you ask a passerby "what does the suspect look like?", they will give a descriptive statement that also applies to his or her own self.
  • Idiot Ball: This version has one in the form of the battery-powered translator. With no spare batteries. Or, say, a charger.
  • In-Universe Game Clock: Depending on the in-game clock (and time zone), if you stay long enough in a location you can watch the sky go from day to night and vice versa.
  • It Will Never Catch On: The tour of Moscow has Dee Plomassy singing the praises of the dawning era of democracy in Russia. In retrospect, her optimism about The New Russia seems just a bit premature.
  • Live-Action Cutscene: The footage of Lynne Thigpen.
  • Police Brutality: Implied if you arrest the wrong person. The Spinning Paper will indicate that you attacked a friendly tourist, and said tourist will say they've never been to the country where the loot was stolen.
  • Right-Hand Cat: This version has Carmen's cat Carmine, who originally appeared in Junior Detective. Considering Junior Detective featured the Where on Earth cast, this makes for some confusing continuity.
  • Spinning Paper: This occurs at the end of every case. There are three variations:
    • If you run out of fuel: "Babble-Link batteries bottom out: [player's name] left in the dark in [last country you were in]."
    • If you apprehend the wrong person and/or make a mistake with your warrant: "[player's name] attacks friendly tourist: 'I've never been to [country stolen from],' says innocent victim."
    • If you complete the case successfully: "[crook's name] captured: [country stolen from] thanks [player's name] for the return of [loot]."
  • Squashed Flat: Rock Solid captures crooks by log-rolling over them to flatten them thin as paper. He then holds up the crook's flattened body to the camera, and it is shown again in the newspaper article on the crook's arrest.
  • Stock Footage: The in-game database includes some video clips, all composed of footage from old National Geographic specials. This includes footage from:
    • Australia's Aborigines (1988) - "Australia" video
    • Born of Fire (1983) - "Greece" and "Iceland" videos
    • Egypt: Quest for Eternity (1982) - "Egypt" video
    • Great Lakes, Fragile Seas (1991) - "Canada" video
    • Inside the Soviet Circus (1988) - "Russia" video
    • Last Stand in Eden (1979) - "Kenya" video
    • Living Treasures of Japan (1981) - "Japan" video
    • Return to Everest (1984) - "Nepal" video
    • Serengeti Diary (1989) - "Tanzania" video
    • Those Wonderful Dogs (1989) - "New Zealand" video
  • Worthy Opponent: Carmen acknowledges the player as such in one of her brief video calls.
  • You ALL Look Familiar: The bystanders reuse the same character models on occasion.
  • You Are Fat: If the suspect is "heavy", bystanders will use descriptions such as "If pounds were dollars, s/he'd be a millionaire!"


Video Example(s):


Crook Arrested

The crook's arrest is announced with a spinning newspaper

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Main / SpinningPaper

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